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Evening Standard
Evening Standard
Rachael Burford

Record number of UK work visas issued as new wage thresholds loom

A record number of foreign health and care workers were issued UK visas last year, figures released on Thursday reveal.

The number is more than five times what it was when the route was introduced three years ago.

While 146,477 applicants were granted permission to come on this visa in 2023, when dependants were taken into account the figure rose to a total of 349,929.

This is up from 157,636 in 2022 and 63,291 in 2021.

Charities warned that the Government was “unwilling” to address low pay in the health sector, leaving migrant workers open to exploitation.

It comes as new rules will see foreign carers banned from bringing their loved ones to the UK from March 11 in a measure that the Government hopes will help what it describes as “unsustainable and unfair levels of migration”.

The number of people living in the UK on a work visa was also at an 18-year high, with 600,000 issued last year.

The Home Office said the rise has been “largely driven” by care workers and home carers.

In a breakdown of the occupations under the health and care route, care workers, home carers and senior care workers accounted for 105,881 main applications granted.

In the care workers and home carers category the number of visas issued to main applicants was more than four times higher last year than in 2022, at 89,236 up from 19,864.

Dr Dora-Olivia Vicol, CEO of Work Rights Centre, said: “We can clearly see a rapidly growing population of vulnerable migrant workers, in a sector which has already been identified as low-pay, low protection, and high-risk.

“While the government is unwilling to address low pay in health and care, the sector will continue to rely on overseas labour - with migrant workers, unjustly, easier to exploit.

“On the surface, it seems positive that the Home Office is taking more actions against sponsor-employers who exploit workers or break the rules.

“However, the Home Office needs a plan to support migrant workers to find new sponsors. Without it, every time a licence is revoked, migrants associated with that sponsor are left in limbo and in debt, unfairly punished for the behaviour of their employer.

“The Home Office must have a plan for safeguarding and supporting migrant workers who are effectively punished for the behaviour of their employer. Otherwise, migrant workers will be deterred from reporting exploitative employers, which is bad for British and migrant workers alike, and the vulnerable adults in their care.”

Former Home Secretary Suella Braverman, who was sacked last year, said: “The PM must adopt policies I pushed for that would have prevented this national disaster.

“We need a cap on overall numbers. Britain will be unrecognisable if this carries on.”

Dr Ben Brindle, researcher at the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford said the precise impacts of the new approach are difficult to predict.

“The UK may become less attractive to care workers with family members,” he said.

“However, it’s also possible that employers will simply shift to hiring younger workers without families, or people who are willing to leave their families behind.

“In agriculture, the UK has been able to recruit tens of thousands of workers onto seasonal agricultural visas with less advantageous visa conditions.

“At the same time, care workers themselves will become more isolated if they come to the UK alone, and so may become more vulnerable to exploitation.”

The Home Office figures showed that Indian (18,664), Nigerian (18,143) and Zimbabwean (15,279) nationals accounted for almost six in 10 (58%) of the visas granted to care workers and home carer occupations last year.

Indian nationals accounted for more than half (51%) of visa grants for nurses (11,322 grants), and just under a third (32%) of senior care worker visas (5,301 grants), the department said.

Overall, the number of people admitted to the UK under a work visa in 2023 was 616,371, up 46% from 421,565 in 2022 and the highest number for any 12-month period since comparable records began in 2005.

Of the 616,371 people admitted via this route, just over half (337,240, or 55%) were main applicants while just under half (279,131, or 45%) were dependants.

In 2022, main applicants made up 63% of the total arriving under a work visa, while dependants made up 37%.

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